Can you survive cardiac arrest? What are the symptoms?

The heart suddenly stops pumping. What are the symptoms of cardiac arrest and what causes it? What is cardioversion? What treatment options are there and what is the prognosis? Can you survive cardiac arrest? There is an app that shows you where to find the nearest AED.

Article content

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Causes of cardiac arrest
  • Symptoms of cardiac arrest
  • Treatment of cardiac arrest
  • Defibrillation/cardioversion
  • Cardiac arrest prognosis
  • Stopping the heart during surgery
  • App to search for nearest AED
  • What happens after a cardiac arrest report is made to 112?

Cardiac arrest

In cardiac arrest, the heart stops pumping . Oxygen-rich blood no longer goes to the brain and other organs, which means they can no longer function properly. Within three minutes after the heart stops pumping, the brain begins to suffer damage. The heart can be restarted or blood circulation can be stimulated by external cardiac massage. However, if this does not happen, death can occur after five minutes. Cardiac arrest occurs more frequently with increasing age, more often in men than in women. There are risk factors (see under the heading causes), heredity is not a significant factor.

Causes of cardiac arrest

Most commonly, cardiac arrest is caused by ventricular fibrillation or asystole (two types of electrical disturbance).

  1. Ventricular fibrillation: this is the most common cause. Electrical impulses pass through the ventricles, but the ventricles do not contract. For this reason, the heart cannot pump blood. It can occur suddenly with coronary artery disease, it can also be a complication of a myocardial infarction.
  2. Asystole: this is an electrical disturbance in the heart, which causes the heart to no longer contract. Complete cardiac arrest occurs. Asystole can be caused by choking, but also by diseases and injuries that lead to heavy blood loss.

Risk factors for cardiac arrest : smoking, unhealthy (fatty) food, too little exercise, too high body weight.

Symptoms of cardiac arrest

Symptoms that usually occur within a few seconds of cardiac arrest:

  • Someone can collapse;
  • Loss of consciousness;
  • The lips, fingers and toes turn blue;
  • No pulse and no heartbeat anymore;
  • No breathing.

Treatment of cardiac arrest

medical help must be provided immediately. If you are the only one near the person who is affected, call for help until someone arrives. It is also important that cardiac massage (CPR) is started immediately. This is to keep the blood flow to the brain going. When the ambulance crew arrives on the scene, they will take over everything and also make an electrocardiogram. This is to determine the cause of the cardiac arrest. Which treatment is chosen depends on the issue: ventricular fibrillation or asystole. Chamber fibrillation can be treated with a defibrillator (see under the heading Defibrillation). Astystole can sometimes be remedied with an injection of epinephrine (adrenaline). The injection is made into a large vein or directly into the heart to restart the heartbeat.


Defibrillation is another word for cardioversion . A short electric shock is given to the heart with a defibrillator. This shock allows the heart to resume its normal rhythm. Nowadays, more and more automated external defibrillators (AED) are being installed in public spaces. These are easy for everyone to operate and can save lives.

Cardiac arrest prognosis

  • If chest compressions are started immediately after cardiac arrest, the chance of survival depends on the cause of the cardiac arrest.
  • If ventricular fibrillation is a complication of a heart attack, complete recovery is possible if the heartbeat can be restored through defibrillation.
  • In the case of cardiac arrest due to asystole, the outlook is only positive if the cause that led to the cardiac arrest can be treated quickly and effectively and the normal heart rate must be restored.

Stopping the heart during surgery

During cardiac surgery it is often necessary to stop the heart. The function of the heart is then taken over in the meantime by a heart-lung machine.

App to search for nearest AED

You can find AEDs in many places in the Netherlands. Think of public buildings, sports clubs, shopping centers, amusement parks. You can recognize them by the green AED logo. If you pay attention, there are more around than you think. They would like to map all locations, but there is currently no good national registration system. There is an app for the mobile phone (iPhone or Android) or iPad that allows you to search for the nearest AED .

What happens after a cardiac arrest report is made to 112?

When a (possible) cardiac arrest is reported, the Ambulance Care Control Room (MKA) always sends two ambulances to the victim. This is according to protocol. Furthermore, the HartslagNu or Hartveilig Wonen calling system is also automatically activated. The goal is to find enough emergency responders and AEDs. You can register as a citizen first responder on the websites of HartslagNu and Hartveilig Wonen or you can add an AED location .